Edward Witten Lecture: 2+1-Dimensional Gravity Revisited

About The Professor

Edward Witten (born August 26, 1951) is an American theoretical physicist and professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, who is widely known as “the most brilliant physicist of his generation,” and "one of the world's greatest living physicists, perhaps even Einstein's successor".  He is a leading researcher in superstring theory. In 1990, Witten won the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in pure mathematics. In 1995, he suggested the existence of M-theory at a conference at the University of Southern California and used it to explain a number of previously observed dualities sparking a flurry of new research in string theory called the second superstring revolution.


Birth and education

Edward Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland to a Jewish family, the son of Lorraine W. Witten and Louis Witten, a theoretical physicist specializing in gravitation and general relativity. He received his bachelor's degree in history (with a minor in linguistics) from Brandeis University. Witten planned to become a political journalist, and published articles in The New Republic and The Nation. He worked briefly for George McGovern's presidential campaign. Then, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for one semester as an economics graduate student before dropping out. He then returned to academia, enrolling in applied mathematics at Princeton University before shifting departments and receiving a Ph.D. in physics in 1976 under David Gross, the 2004 Nobel laureate in Physics.

Academic career

After completing his PhD, he worked at Harvard University as a Junior Fellow and at Princeton as a professor. He was a Professor of Physics at Princeton University from 1980 to 1987. He also was briefly at Caltech for two years from 1999 to 2001. He is currently the Charles Simonyi Professor of Mathematical Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Witten has the highest h-index (110) of any living physicist.

Research and achievements

Witten has made extensive contributions to theoretical physics, in work that has spawned a large number of highly mathematical results. He has been active primarily in quantum field theory and string theory, and in related areas of topology and geometry. His many contributions include a simplified proof of the positive energy theorem involving spinors in general relativity, his work relating supersymmetry and Morse theory, his introduction of topological quantum field theory and his related work on mirror symmetry and supersymmetric gauge theories, and his conjecture of the existence of M-theory.

Witten was awarded the Fields Medal by the International Mathematical Union in 1990, becoming the first physicist to win the prize. Sir Michael Atiyah said of Witten, "Although he is definitely a physicist, his command of mathematics is rivaled by few mathematicians... Time and again he has surprised the mathematical community by a brilliant application of physical insight leading to new and deep mathematical theorems... he has made a profound impact on contemporary mathematics. In his hands physics is once again providing a rich source of inspiration and insight in mathematics." One such example of his impact on pure mathematics is his framework for understanding the Jones polynomial using Chern-Simons theory. This had far reaching implications on low-dimensional topology and led to quantum invariants such as the Witten-Reshetikhin-Turaev invariants.

He is currently working on the possible relations between Gauge theories and Geometric Langlands program.

Edward Witten
Edward Witten
Name: Edward Witten
Institution: Institute for Advanced Study
Website: www.sns.ias.edu/~witten/